Fate of Mineral County Detention Center in limbo

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Mineral County officials are currently deciding whether or not to close the Detention Center, which closed temporarily in early February, due to a detention officer shortage. Staff shortages caused a previous closure in 2017.

“It’s kind of this rollercoaster thing,” Mineral County Commissioner Roman Zylawy said.

The detention center requires five officers to staff the 28-bed center and only two potential employees applied for the position, forcing its temporary closure.

Before the closure in 2017, former Sheriff Tom Bauer operated the detention center. Zylawy says former employees cited low morale and Bauer allegedly treated them poorly.

“There were a lot of disgruntled employees,” Zylawy said.

Many employees who worked there for several years reported no complaints until Bauer stepped in.

Following the problems from the first closure, county officials transferred the administration to Roni Phillips, Superior’s mayor and head dispatcher. She filled the new position of the jail administrator and oversaw the center, which included hiring and training new officers.

Although officer pay increased from $10 per hour to $14, the center continued to have problems with staffing. But the most recent losses were because of family and relocation reasons instead of dissatisfaction with the job.

PHILLIPS ALSO announced her retirement from county services after 25 years, and Zylawy said there isn’t anybody qualified to replace her. And with only two applicants for the five positions required to fill, there are insufficient resources to operate the Detention Center.

In the meantime, Sheriff Mike Boone sends current inmates to the Sanders County Jail and the Missoula County Jail. Mineral County must pay $69.50 per day to both facilities — for each inmate housed there. Sanders County is currently housing two Mineral County inmates.

When the Mineral County Detention Center is open, there is an average of five to six of its own inmates, and two Montana Highway Patrol inmates, who are required to pay the $69.50 per day fee.

Zylawy said Philips sent emails to other counties to inform them about openings at the Detention Center, but the other counties never took advantage of the vacancies.

“I always thought jails were full and overcrowded,” Zylawy said.

But nearby counties like Lake and Missoula never called. Zylawy says it’s inconvenient for the judge and county attorney to schedule court dates and trials when there’s no Detention Center here.

“I personally think it’s important to have a jail here,” Zylawy said. “But when there’s no interest from workers or agencies, we can’t send inmates to our jail.”

This closure pertains only to the Detention Center. The Sheriff’s Office is still in operation, law enforcement is fully-staffed and 911 dispatch center is fully operational.

County officials will make a final decision at the public commissioners’ meeting on Friday, April 12. The public is welcome to attend and make comments. Time is to be announced and people interested can call the courthouse at 406-822-3577.

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